Professor Joe Goldblatt
“Why do you Jews hate us so much?” When the Minister of Tourism of Jordan asked me this question at the beginning of a gala dinner in my honour, it literally took my breath away. Many years ago I was sent by my University to Jordan to conduct training for hospitality professionals in the field of events management. On the last night of week long visit I had been invited by the Minister to the finest hotel in Amman to enjoy dinner with himself and five prominent Sheikhs who had business interests in event tourism.
When I arrived at the hotel the first thing I noticed was that behind the reception desk there were a dozen rifles leaning against the ornate wall. I asked the receptionist why there we placed there and she said “We do not allow rifles in the dining room.”
The Minister and the Sheikhs warmly welcomed me to dinner and once we had ordered our meal the Minister suddenly asked perhaps the most difficult question I have ever been required to answer. He leaned toward me and asked “Why do you hate us so much?”
After recovering from my initial shock, I asked him what prompted this question. He replied that he owned several hotels in both Jordan and Israel, however, anytime he travelled across the border into Israel the Israeli authorities made it very difficult for him to enter because of his Arab citizenship. He found these delays at the shared border to be difficult and embarrassing. He then repeated his question “So, why do the Jews hate us so much?”
I looked around the room which was perched at the top of the hotel and surrounded by full size windows overlooking the beautiful city of Amman that was glittering below with thousands of lights. Then I looked the Minister straight in the eye and replied “I do not hate you. I love you. You have invited me to your country and to this dinner, and therefore, I believe you love me too.”
The Minister and Sheikhs all smiled and nodded in agreement as they raised their glasses in a toast to our two countries. The Minister, who was known as a forthright person, then continued to pursue his line of questioning by asking me another profound question. “If you love us, then why can you not forget our troubled past?”
I closed my eyes to consider in silence the full weight of his question. Suddenly I imagined my mother who once was asked a similar question about a difficult relative who had made her life miserable for many years. Mama told me “I can always forgive, however, one must never forget. If you forget you may suffer some future harm. You must instead, remember and forgive.”
As stories are now being shared about our late Queen’s interactions with world leaders, I am struck by her own seemingly unlimited personal ability to remember the slights and pain caused by others and to forgive them in order to best represent the values of the role she did not choose but performed steadfastly for 70 years. One story shared by another world leader was that the Queen had best be careful in hosting a visiting guest. She heeded the warning from her trusted friend and then extended a warm welcome to her somewhat challenging guest.
The Jewish people this month and next are observing Rosh Hashonah which is our New Year as well as a period of reflection and atonement known as Yom Kippur. During this time it is customary to ask one another and he almighty for forgiveness for any transgressions we have purposely or accidentally caused and that would have caused offense or injury. I find this period of forgiveness as a spiritually cleansing opportunity reflect upon our humanity and to directly confront our errors whilst also engaging with others in a very personal and sincere manner.
As we observe the day to day cut and thrust that occurs in our seats of government, I wonder how different the world might be if once each year the men and women who lead our country were to cross the aisle and sincerely apologise for their transgressions. This does not mean that they shall ever be required to forget the offenses they have suffered from their opponents. It simply shall mean that despite these painful offenses, some caused purposefully and some accidentally, they have risen above the past to display the human qualities of strong character, humility, kindness and even courage.
During one of our past Day of Atonement services I recall standing at the front door of our place of worship greeting attendees and having a man walk toward me and extend his hand in friendship. He then said “I wish to apologise for my actions last year. I may have hurt you and I am sorry.” He then went on to explain that as I was entering the Playhouse Theatre to view a performance of an Israeli dance company that he was one of the protesters standing at the front door shouting criticism as audience members arrived.
As I looked up from our hands that were clasped in friendship on that morning I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears. I do not believe that his views had changed regarding the issue he was protesting, however, his heart had indeed softened over time. I thanked him and was grateful for my ability to remember the intense pain of that moment and then also summon forgiveness as a result of his genuine apology.
At the conclusion of the dinner in Amman, the Minister, Sheikhs and myself clasped arms, as is customary in the Middle East and we all said Salam Alaikum which means “Peace be with you”. The equivalent phrase in the Jewish language of Hebrew is “Shalom.” To my astonishment and everlasting gratitude as I walked toward the front door of the hotel to depart, I paused and turned toward my hosts one last time and in unison they said “Shalom.”
Perhaps one way forward during these difficult times of change in government, global warfare, challenges with our neighbour states due to Brexit, economic distress, and the overall uncertainty of day to day life is to seek inner peace by summoning the courage to apologise to others for our past errors and transgressions. As mama suggested, to both remember and forgive is a genuine opportunity to both learn from the past and with a full heart perhaps move toward a better future, together.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret Uiversity and Chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association.